You are going to die.
The people you love are going to die also.
Those two statements may be the biggest white elephant in every room. Death is unavoidable, uncertain and unwelcome. Culturally we aren’t taught how to grieve, how to process death or how to accept our mortality. Nobody takes the time to teach us how to die so in many respects we never actually learn how to live.
The death of someone you can’t live without changes the course of your life from that point forward. You can’t be the same, and your view of life beyond loss morphs you into a human being, that in many respects, you wish you could have been sooner. You become a human with superpowers of love, emotional depth and an awareness of life and it’s cruel brevity of existence.
When death knocked on the door of the man who slept by my side every night for fifteen years, it didn’t come as a quiet and long knock. Instead, it came as a loud and abrupt jolt that beat down our door and left me standing on the other side of the threshold exposed to the elements and the vast, cold abyss.
In the blink of an eye, he was gone forever, and my life and the life of our two young children morphed into something I didn’t recognize or think was possible.
As I sat in our lonely and empty bed that night, I took a mental inventory of everything we owned. The big house with the pool, the two cars, the beautiful furniture and the endless purchases from a life of consumption. I got up and walked around the house and continued to tally all the material objects that didn’t bring him back. The more I saw, the lonelier I felt, realizing that no amount of stuff we had collectively owned brought me comfort in this new life of anguish.
I returned to our bed and sat in my sorrow. I noticed my heart racing as if I’d just run a marathon, without moving a muscle from my bed. The stillness of the night contrasted with the sharp rhythm of my heart, and the pain that enveloped my being was a grief I didn’t believe possible for any human to survive. My mind wandered to happier times as I recalled white water rafting the Grand Canyon, kayaking a volcanic shelf in the Caribbean and hiking in Kauai. In my moment of despair, my darkest hour, I realized that during our many years of togetherness we had lived more than most people would do in a lifetime. We had traveled, explored, we lived with less so we could live for more and made choices to consume life instead of just consuming stuff. In the recent years of our marriage, and with young children, we had started to shift towards how society suggests that we all live and consume. We had begun to buy into a life of quick and needless purchases which limited our ability to go out and create memories and experiences through action.
His death brought me full circle to his life.
A life that never cared about status symbols impressing the neighbors or living for job titles. The stuff we had accumulated was my idea, never his. In all honesty, I was the one buying into societies view of success and happiness. Turns out death teaches you the value and real meaning of life. Death teaches you that how society tells you to live is a set of rules you don’t have to conform to or accept. Death teaches you that memories and experiences are real wealth for those of us who are left behind to make sense of life after loss. Death teaches you to live fully, bravely and honestly without the consumption of stuff as a means of artificial happiness.
The stuff you buy won’t ever quench your thirst for happiness or meaning in this life.
Consumption is a trap of instant gratification and temporary stimulus. The feeling of satisfaction quickly fades and must be replaced with more material objects, bigger, better and more elusive. Suddenly your life mirrors that of a hamster on its wheel. You run as fast as you can in the same direction, never getting anywhere new or worth going.
You are going to die.
The people you love are going to die.
That fact is unavoidable, and while unacceptable allow it to be a lesson for you now on your view of human consumption. You can make a choice to continue a life of stuff that won’t sustain you on your darkest day or you can make a decision to skip the stuff and consume LIFE instead.
Memories are free and experiences await right outside your door. Your happiest day ever might involve a close friend, a sunny trail and a mountain peak. The memories that stick to your heart long after life hands us our toughest blows are the memories of laughter, love, and LIVING.
Don’t wait for the knock on your door to start living this life. Get off the hamster wheel and consume nothing but a great life.